Days of Mutant Future Past

Over at the Blog of Fate, Eddy’s responded to What I learned in the Mutant Future. Justin also weighed in on the comments to the original post. Both of them commented that nostalgia for Gamma World was a driving factor in enjoying our lunch game. I’m not sure it was for me; the main thing I enjoyed was finding character-based solutions to our strange problems.

Justin brought up the point that early Dungeons & Dragons, and thus, by extension, games like Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future, are more surveys than settings. His implication is that that makes it harder to develop a story from the components, but I think that’s a matter of approach.

I’ve long believed that the most important stories in gaming are the ones that emerge from the experience, rather than those that exist before play. Ron Edwards has taken a very aggressive “Story Now” perspective, where he contends that the emergent story needs to be apparent during play. I could really go either way on that.

There are other kinds of emergence in question, though. Emergence from random elements is something Eddy and I have covered pretty well in our posts on the Mutant Future game.

I wonder, though, if that stands in contrast to emergence from player choice. As Zak S notes:

If PCs are traveling overland from one place to some other distant place, and I want to have something unexpected happen on the way there, the thing that happens should usually have something to do with the decisions the PCs made about how to get there. (Method of transportation, route, what they brought with them, etc.) Otherwise I feel like it’s not as much of a sandbox. i.e. If they take the west route and so I roll on the Random Wilderness Encounter Table or I take the East route and so I roll on the Random Wilderness Encounter table, that’s not as fun or interesting as making what happens a consequence of a meaningful strategic decision.

Here we have another case where divining events from random elements can diminish the importance of player choice. Now, as Zak goes on to discuss, stepping around this particular problem is pretty trivial. It’s still, though, a limit on how random — and potentially on how procedural — you want to go.

I think that in our Mutant Future game, a lot of our choices were reduced in significance by the game world’s random responses. And yet, both choice and randomness are at the root of the old school.

Eddy’s response alluded to the D&D game I’m prepping for the company retreat, and I’m going to try tweaking my methods here. The players are going to be presented with a developed micro-setting that offers a number of worthwhile things to do… as well as random encounters. I’m going to do my best to make sure that their choices have a discernible impact on the content and challenges they encounter.

Finally, we have emergence from stereotype, something I’m interested in with regards to classic D&D. At what point does my character stop being “a dwarf” and start being “Bjorn Thornhaller?” Evolving a character from type is a common device in literature, and it’s certainly something that happens in roleplaying games. How does that process work in a sandbox narrative?

2 thoughts on “Days of Mutant Future Past”

  1. Thinking further, I wonder if it’s a balance between “main quest” and “side quest.” There’s a main narrative trunk you can follow, but the random elements provide the spice, the side quests that players can pursue. While this can be as simple as Final Fantasy-style random encounters that occur between locations, I’m really thinking more like the short encounters that occur in Mass Effect — on the way from X to Y, you get a call for help for Z, and fight some dudes. It does add to the overall setting (i.e., that this is a dangerous area), but doesn’t detract from the main story.

    I still think Gamma World/Mutant Future is a bit too goofy and random for my tastes (like you’ve said, it’s too easy to be stuck with a power that never comes into play), but I could see how both prepared and random elements can combine.

    Really, though, I’m finding this whole concept of adhering to a particular “style” of gameplay intellectually interesting but frustrating in practice. I’d much rather use whatever tools are available to make my players feel awesome.

  2. @Eddy
    “Really, though, I’m finding this whole concept of adhering to a particular ‘style’ of gameplay intellectually interesting but frustrating in practice. I’d much rather use whatever tools are available to make my players feel awesome.”

    A while ago, I took to referring to myself as a “middle school” gamer, which nicely suits me. I’m from the Rules Cyclopedia/VtM era, I did a lot of gaming in middle school, and I tend to draw influence from a whole range of styles and products. Most of all, though, I do whatever works.

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